BOGOTA, Colombia --Two days ahead of his symbolic visit to Colombia, Pope Francis sent a video message to the nation, telling citizens he comes as a pilgrim of hope and urging them to continue working toward peace and dialogue in the nation.
“I feel honored to visit this land rich in history, culture, faith and men and women who have worked with determination and perseverance, so that it may be a place where harmony and brotherhood reign,” the Pope said in Spanish in his video message.
Colombians, he said, have worked so that their land might be a place “where the Gospel is known and loved, where to say brother and sister isn’t something strange, but a true treasure to defend and protect.”
Above all, especially given the country’s turbulent past, the Pope stressed that “the world today needs consultants of peace and dialogue.”
Pope Francis’ visit also comes just one year after a peace accord was signed between the Colombian government and the country's largest rebel group, Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), in August 2016.
After its initial rejection in an Oct. 2 referendum, a revised agreement was signed Nov. 24 and was subsequently approved by Colombia's Congress on Nov. 30, this time bypassing a popular vote.
Since 1964, as many as 260,000 people have been killed and millions displaced in the civil war.
In his video message, the Pope said he will be coming to them “as a pilgrim of hope and peace, to celebrate with you the faith in Our Lord and also to learn from your charity and your consistency in searching for peace and harmony.”
He offered thanks to the president of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, and to the nation's bishops for the invitation to come. He also voiced gratitude to all those preparing for the trip and to the Colombian people themselves, who “welcome me into your land and into your hearts.”
Francis said the theme of the trip, “Let us take the first step,” serves as a reminder that “it’s always necessary to take the first step for any project or activity.”
“It also pushes us to be the first to love, to create bridges, to create brotherhood,” he said, adding that to take the first step also “encourages us to go to the encounter of others and to extend a hand, and to give each other the sign of peace.”
Peace, he said, is something Colombia has been searching for and working at for many years. And it’s not just any peace, but “a stable, durable peace to see each other and treat each other as brothers, never as enemies.”
This peace also serves as a reminder that “we are all children of the same Father, who loves us and consoles us,” the Pope said, adding that the Church is also called to contribute to this task by promoting reconciliation with God, each other and with creation, “which we are exploiting in a savage way.”
Pope Francis closed his message voicing hope that his visit would be like “a fraternal embrace for each one of you and in which we feel the comfort and tenderness of the Lord.”
“Dear brothers and sisters in Colombia, I wish to live these days with you with animated joy and with gratitude to the Lord,” he said, and he asked that God bless the people of Colombia, and that he “protect your country and give you peace.”